I like to read books about spiritual journeys. Many, many years ago, I read the Seven Story Mountain, an account of Thomas Merton passage from disbelief to becoming a Trappist monk, in one of the strictest religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Since then I have read many books of this type:one was about an American young man who left a somewhat dissolute life and travelled to The East: India, South East Asia, and Sri Lanka. Finally, ending up as a Theravadin monk in the older order of Buddhism. Later, I happened to visit the retreat center in WV where he lived and worked. Twice we talked at length and I found out by accident that my favorite statue of the Buddha which I had purchased at a Zen Center in Los Angeles years before -- was made by him. Synchonicity?
One of the most engrossing books of this type, I have read is The Last Barrier, by Reshad Feild. Feild was a young pop music musician in England who while browsing in a bookstore in England started on a path that led to being apprenticed to a Sufi master in Turkey. Sufism is the mystical side of Islam. With its emphasis on mystical experience, personal entrance into the divine presence, with its emotion, joy, its oft comparison of human love to divine love -- the main body of Islam has seen it as suspect, somewhat aberrant, and on the verge of heretical.
In Riding the Lion, an American sociologist, Kyriacos Markides of Greek ancestry becomes interested in investigating the "higher knowledge" -- the mystical dimensions of religion. The first part of the book is spent largely in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, which has a tradition of teachers and practitioners of mysticism. At the start, the author is a skeptical and tends to look at his new field of study in a very secular, "scientific" manner -- staying within the bounds of the secular "science" of sociology.
It is interesting to see him change - both mind and soul as he realizes that there is a great deal of hidden wisdom here, and other dimensions to reality more than the typical modern secular person would imagine, or if imagined --admit to.
The last third of the book he travels to Greece and especially to Mt. Athos, a secluded mountainous peninsula in the eastern coast of Greece. It is the center of Eastern Orthodox
His experiences, especially with the monks on Mt. Athos opens his eyes, mind and heart to the mystical heart of Christianity -- which is predominantly located within the Eastern Orthodox Churches. He discovers that there is a direct tradition of mystical spiritual practices of Christianity stemming from the very beginnings of the Christian Church. A mystical tradition which is found to some degrees in Catholicism, but almost lacking in Protestantism However, within Eastern Orthodoxy these riches of mystical spirituality have been preserved and in places like Mt. Athos are vibrantly alive.
The author believes this demonstrates that it is not only "The East" -- India, Tibet, etc. who have an esoteric tradition of spirituality but that if you know where to look -- "The West" has it also.
Towards the end of Markides' book he defends his view of spirituality and other dimensions to reality with some of his secular friends and colleagues. When they ask him to describe his discoveries or new assumptions --- he makes these points. (italicized portions from this book).
"'Assumption number one is the following,' I went on: "The world of the five senses is not the only world there is.'"
"Assumption number two: Other worlds exist that interpenetrate our own. These worlds are layered -- that means they relate to each other in a hierarchical manner. The world of the five senses is at the bottom of this spiritual totem pole."
"Three, the various worlds are in ongoing communication with one another. But most often the communication moves in a conscious way from top to bottom, rarely from bottom up. The higher realms constantly influence the lower realms in ways that the lower realms are not aware of."
"Fourth, if the above assumptions are true, and I believe they are, then it logically follows that we as a species and as individuals are never alone."
"Fifth, contrary to Sartre, Camus and Beckett the world is utterly meaningful. This meaning is derived from the fact that Creation is not an accident but the product of a Divine Plan. The project of Creation and the existence of all the hierarchy is for the sake of unfoldment and evolution of consciousness. This consciousness has as its destiny the transcendence of the hierarchy itself and the conscious reunification with the Absolute Spirit or Personal God out of whom we come and within Whom, like fish in the ocean, we constantly are."
(Personal Comment: I agree to some degree with these five "assumptions" -- but certainly not completely. And -- I assure you most of the book is more engaging and interesting than these five conclusions the author reached after his vivid experiences described in the book. bob)